tv Charlie Rose PBS December 10, 2010 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
>> charlie: welcome to our program. tonight, the founder and c.e.o. of groupon, andrew mason. >> we're the savior for small businesses. for consumers, we want to reverse this trend of spending more and more time on the computer, and help people rediscover their cities. and as far as the company goes, i think we want to build a company that, as we get bigger, we stay honest to the brand and the corporate culture that made us a really cool place to work and made people like us when we were small and hopefully, create some examples of how you don't have to be like every other company even when you're a big one. >> charlie: and the author of a widely praised new biography of cleopatra, stacey schiff. >> it's difficult to resist a subject which is built on
misconceptions so here was a subject we could tackle where you could say we think she was egyptian but she was greek,y we think she was beautiful but she's charismatic and cunning hher world is more sophisticated than the roman world that conquered her, she's the most wealthy woman in that world, it's the great all-star cast of the ancient world, seize are and mark antony, cleopatra, supporting cast of herod, a fantastic group of characters. >> charlie: and john wood. a man who is bringing books to millions of children around the world. >> it took a couple of years foget off the ground, 2000 was a terrible time to launch a charity with the markets melting but year three we started to take off because people everywhere with resources realized they have education to thank. without education, you're not you, i'm not me so we remind people to say this is the chance
to pay it forward in a part of the world where kids don't have the access to the simplest things. >> charlie: group onon, cleo pat radio and room to read. >> maybe you want school kids to have more exposure to the arts, maybe you want to provide meals to the neediy or maybe you want to help when the unexpected happens. whatever you want to do, members project from american express can help you take the first step. vote, volunteer or donate for the causes you believe in at membersproject.com. take charge of making a difference. >> additional funding provided by these funders.
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. harlie: andrew mason is here. he is one of the founders and c.e.o. of the website group on. every day it offers deals in local markets with deep discounts in everything from yoga to restaurants. it has grown exponentially. it already has 35 million subscribers in more than 300 cities globally. it's also created a lucrative business model that is expected to result in hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue this year. he has done this all without losing his sense of humor. the deals are announced every day with quirky descriptions written by group on's staff of writers. mason once hired a man to walk around the office in a ballerina
outfit with no explanation just to see what kind of reaction he got. i am pleased to have andrew mason at the table for the first time. welcome. >> thank you for having me, charlie. >> charlie: how would you define all of that i talked talked about? >> i think part of what makes groupon relevant for readers is being surprised every morning what the deal is and we try to remain surprising and we try to do things, whether it's the deal you're getting or whether it's the way we're writing about the deal or whether it's the brand and the culture of the company that's constantly surprising people because that's kind of the spice of life. >> charlie: give us the history of this. >> we started groupon in november 2008, launched it in our home town of chicago. >> charlie: two years ago. >> two years and a month. we just switched from talking about ourselves in terms of months where i think two years is when you do it for a baby, when you do it for a company -- before that, another site which is a broader application of the idea of groupon, it was called
the point, and it was a way for groups of people to come together and organize action, whether that action is boycotting a company or organizing a rally or fund-raising or organizing some kind of group discount, and there was this big idea around trying to solve the world's unsolvable problems but it was too abstract and complex so we said let's take one application of that, group buying and focus on that and see what happens, so we started it as this side process. >> charlie: group buying and groupon became one word. >> every day we feature one local business -- it could be a restaurant, it could be theater tickets, it could be a spa, and we offer a big discount -- 50% off or more -- but in order to get that discount, a minimum number of people need to join, so that way, the business knows they're getting a large number of new customers and for that they're willing to offer this big discount. so we played around with the idea in chicago for about five
or six months before we launched our second city, then we launched the seconded city and the third city and before we knew it now we're adding 30 cities a month or so. we entered 2010 in one country. we're now in 35 countries. adding four more just last week. and we're up to actually -- you said 35 million, but it's actually 40 million subscribers. >> charlie: 40 million now. how fast are you growing in terms of subscribers? >> we added three million last week. >> charlie: three million last week. how many were you adding per week at the beginning of this year? in 2010, in january and february of 2010? >> maybe 100,000. >> charlie: and you added three million last week? three million new subscribers. and the reason is? >> well, it's solving a real problem for lots of different types of people. >> charlie: especially local business. >> yeah, local businesses have never had a great way to get
customers in the door. there is this term -- >> charlie: they've never been crazy about internet advertising. >> no, because they don't know how to make it work. they don't know how to make noninternet advertising work. they kind of do it because they feel like they have to, but 99 out of 100 businesses that put an ad in the paper end up feeling disappointed about it. they can't measure the returns and to the degree they can they feel like it was a disappointment, so what groupon does is -- it's for the first time, local businesses get performance-based marketing. they only pay when these customers walk in the door. we get them in the door and then it's up to them to give them an amazing experience, so we've put all these small kind of niche businesses on the map, whether it's a -- whether it's a helicopter club that's offering flying lessons and we sell 2,500 groupon -- >> charlie: that's an extraordinary story. tell the story. in terms of the people at the
helicopter club offering lessons, all of a sudden, they were expecting 20? >> they were expecting maybe a couple hundred or so and we always try and prepare them and say this could be huge. don't be surprised if we sell a thousand. >> charlie: how many did they get? >> we sold 2,500, and in the history of this business that's been around for two decades -- or 2 1/2 decades -- >> charlie: helicopter flying lessons. >> yeah. this business had brought in a total of 5,000 customers, so in one day we increased their -- we did as much as half of what they did in the previous quarter century. >> charlie: and it happens because there is a thirst for value and bargains and a sense that -- >> kyle: more than that -- >> more than that. i think it's a thirst for life. a thirst for experiences. >> charlie: it's a buying experience people like? >> they like getting out of the house and flying a helicopter.
for going skydiving or whatever it is. >> charlie: are these things that they might not otherwise have thought about? that they didn't know there was this kind of bargain? >> yeah. i think -- i think that's what it is. i think the discount is this great trick that we're playing on people because we're tricking them to get out of the house and live their lives because it's there for one daya. it's like "i have always wanted to go skydiving. if i'm going to do it, i might as well do it now because it's never going to be cheaper" we finally get people to commit and get off the couch and go out and have fun. >> charlie: you split the profits 50-50. >> uh-huh. >> charlie: are most people happy with the results? >> yeah. >> charlie: 90%? or 70%? or -- >> we survey all the businesses we feature, and 95% say they want to be featured again. >> charlie: there also is this advantage. it's an advertising model for them. a promotional model. even if they don't make any money, their company is seen in
a certain light of attention. >> right, we send out free an email the exclusive subject of which is this business and we do this fun write-up that people read even if they're not interested in buying the day r deal, and in a city like chicago that goes out to a million people which is larger than the circulation of "the sun-times" and "the tribune" combined so it's amazing exposure for these small businesses. there is this term the hidden gem that we use to refer to small businesses, and i think of it as a nice way of saying someone who is great at their craft but sucks as a marketer and we want to squash that whole concept. we want to make sure that if there is someone out there -- >> charlie: you want to do the marketing for them? which is it? >> if you have a hidden business, if you're great at your craft people should be coming in there. it shouldn't be this secret. >> charlie: we want to expose great ideas. >> right. >> charlie: or businesses that
have something to offer to you. >> right. >> charlie: competition. everybody says that one of the issues in terms of your future is that you have already begun to see a whole class of imitators. it is a serious form of flattery, but does it worry you? >> there has been something like 500 -- it's strange. the first one came around in april 2009 or so and i remember seeing it, just being amazed that someone would copy what we were doing exactly. like the layout of the site. the copyrighting we were doing. but getting over that, i think the proof is in the numbers. we've just tried to stay focused on building a really great product for people and now, with 500 clones, 499 of them are
relevant -- we still maintain a really great lead and i think it's because we really focus on creating great product -- >> charlie: but is this the lead of simply experience or is it the lead of writing code and technology and software? >> i think -- it's all of those things. it's having a consistently great experience for our customers and merchants. people -- at least on the internet, because i think about this a lot -- companies that have these huge ramps. we're not the first. maybe we've done it a little bit faster but that's largely a side effect of the world in which we live where there are these social media channels lying facebook and twitter that allow ideas to propagate much faster but i think about what calls the friendsters or the myspaces to collapse, and it's usually those companies losing to themselves. they lose their sense of focus. maybe they're too focused on the competition or they're off doing interviews with charlie rose instead of working on growing
their business. >> charlie: liez do not say that. >> but i think as long as we continue -- >> charlie: please do not say that. >> but i think as long as we continue to look at what our customers and our merchants want and be as fanatical about that as we were when we started the business, then we'll be in pretty good shape. >> charlie: so focus is what those that don't excel -- or those that lose their meteoric rise, it's focus. they forget -- >> what's important. >> charlie: what's important. they forget why they got to the place that they are. >> maybe. >> charlie: so what's the future of groupon, other than countries that you haven't tapped, cities that you haven't been to? >> self-driving cars. we're going to get into that. beyond that -- >> charlie: what's a self-driving car? although i know there's been a little bit of talk about it, but tell us. >> that's actually all that i know so far. but i know that i want to do it.
beyond that, we think there is really an opportunity for a company to come along and change the way that people buy from local businesses in the same way that sites like amazon have changed the way people buy products. >> charlie: right. >> and we want to try to be that company. we think we've scratched the surface. >> charlie: so you're the savior for small business in the world. >> we're the savior for small businesses. for consumers, we want to reverse this trend of spending more and more time on the computer and help people rediscover their cities, and as far as the company goes, i think we want to build a company that, as we get bigger, we stay honest to the brand and the corporate culture, that made us a cool place to work and hopefully created examples of how you don't have to be like every other company even when you're a big one. >> charlie: so the reputation is such now that merchants, when they hear you calling, are thrilled. >> yes. >> charlie: and they're lining up calling you as well.
>> we have backlogs sometimes six months long in our cities. >> charlie: saying, "me, me, me"? >> yeah, businesses calling us and -- >> charlie: do you shape the deal? >> we work with them to shape the deal. and it's the biggest problem. for every business we feature, we have to pass on seven businesses. that's how much the demand is. because we the self-imposed limitation of one deal a day that we think is important, and that's what's led to the -- >> charlie: why is that so important, one deal a day? why not one deal an hour? >> i don't know. maybe one deal an hour would work too, but the reason that we've stuck with this one deal a day model is the focus. it puts the merchant in the spotlight and makes it feel really special and it makes a really simple yes-no decision for consumers. i think it's one of the things that differentiates us from the coupon and deal sites that came before where there was just this list of deals and it's overwhelming and everything feels cheap, but we can really make these really special
businesses feel special by making them the exclusive subject of our site for a day. >> charlie: there is this old idea, and people have spoken to it for a long time -- somebody once asked bill gates at the height of microsoft's popularity what did he fear most, and he said, "i don't know, but it's two people somewhere in a garage working on something i've never heard of." that's what he feared. what is it about this? is this the story of that -- of you and eric -- you know, that sort of -- your cofounder and a guy who has been very successful at backing success? is that what it was? was it two guys who just had an idea? two guys that was right? or were you two people who were looking for the next break? >> in terms of fear, i still am most afraid of freddiey kruger. >> charlie: yes -- -- of freddie kruger. >> yes. >> charlie: shaped by your
childhood. >> he's still scary but with the company, i think being what we were trying to do is find a way to create a company that changes the world somehow. >> charlie: changes the world. >> yeah. >> charlie: you really -- you had that thought, let's create something that can change the world rather than what might work and what might do some -- here is a good idea, if we can somehow tap into showing a whole new set of people that small businesses can give them an experience and a bargain, that's not changing the world, that's sort of saying -- that's a business? >> yeah, let me elaborate. when i started the point, i was originally in grad school and i had -- >> charlie: that had a different purpose. that was to raise money for a social cause. >> it had a purpose and that idea and other things i have done in the past has almost been like a burden, you feel compelled, you have this idea, you have the responsibility to go out and do something with it so i think that's what got us
started, and then the pivot to groupon wasn't expected by anyone. including us. i think we started it as a side product and -- project and it was like this is cool, we didn't think we were going to start this billion dollar business. >> charlie: this is a cool thing we could do for a group of people who are part of a social network, rather than raising money we'll show them bargains? >> right, exactly. and for -- it seemed great from the perspective of the consumer. "here is a way to find cool things to do in chicago." but what took us by surprisingly the positive effect it was having on businesses, because we didn't come from a background where we knew a lot about the trials and tribulations of running a brick-and-mortar business but it's really hard for them to get new customers and we ended up doing that better than anybody else in the world, so when we got our -- when we saw that, it allowed us to really dig in, and i think
that continues to be what drives us. is that we're here to help. we're -- i mean, remember, our d.n.a. are people who started this thing who started a company because we wanted to -- because we wanted to change the world and make it better. >> charlie: what does it say about where the internet is today and where social networking is today and where mobile is today? tell me. >> i think what it says is that there is this plumbing that's been laid -- like within the tubes -- >> charlie: right. >> that's the social graph that exists through tools like facebook and twitter, and it just allows companies to grow at a rate that is unprecedented, and i think when people call us the fastest growing company ever, i think of us as like the
nsync of web sites like we have had good tunes but we're not the beatles, it's not like we're the best thing ever but our success and the amount of money we've made is largely because of the environment that we're growing companies in, so i think that we'll continue to see more companies like us who make us -- who put us to shame a couple years from now with their rate of growth. >> charlie: what might be happening in five years? >> i think we'll feel like we have been successful if five years from now, you don't have the same experience that you have today where you walk down main street and 80% of the businesses are empty. if we can do a better job at managing -- managing supply for small businesses so that there are more people out there and less kind of inventory going to waste constantly, so if we can bring that same kind of really smart inventory management that exists with -- for amazon or for wal-mart to every mom-and-pop shop, then that's an exciting
thing to be working toward. >> charlie: and so what does facebook and twitter mean to you? >> it's a great way to -- first of all, groupon is an inherently social service because the content is social. it's restaurants. it's theater. it's stuff that you do with friends. >> charlie: today in new york it's yoga lessons. >> yoga lessons which people do with friends, i'm sure you do yoga with friends, and when people get that yoga deal, they send it to somebody else and they say "let's both get this and let's go together" so facebook and twitter are ways for people to spread the word on these things that never existed before and they make it easy for companies like us to exist. >> charlie: so if someone listens to this and says, "i want to try this," what do they do? >> i want to try groupon? go to www.groupon.com, you type
in your email address and start getting the daily deal and if it looks like something awesome that you want to do, you buy it, if it looks stupid, you delete it, if it looks stupid for like three or four days in a row, then you unsubscribe. >> charlie: groupon is not for you. >> hopefully, that doesn't happen. one of the great things about groupon is that every day we're featuring businesses that have never -- not only have they never run a discount before, they've never advertised before -- like world renowned art museums, james beard-award-winning restaurants, we found a way to make the coupon cool. >> charlie: tell me the museum story. >> we featured -- the first museum we ever featured was the art institute of chicago. >> charlie: right. >> we did half-off memberships. so normally $80. >> charlie: they got, like, 5,000 new members? >> 5,000 new memberships and that increased their overall membership base by -- i forget the number, 6, 7, 8%. >> charlie: what was the offer? >> the offer was half off a
membership. >> charlie: and then where did you cut that off? everybody that wanted that got it? >> everybody that wanted it got it. >> charlie: so therefore, every art organization in chicago wants a groupon experience. >> we did memberships to the joffrey ballet in chicago recently and increased their membership base by 30% or something. >> charlie: so google comes along. >> there has been a lot of stuff written in the press about it. unfortunately, i can't speak to it anyway. >> charlie: suppose you had made that deal. suppose a deal like that -- what would you do? what would be the advantage for you? not skwag well sdag r google, not the deal it -- not google, whatever they offered, what would have been the advantage? >> here is what i can say. every choice we make in the company comes down to a core of this idea we have of what
groupon could be and the place it could play in the world -- in the rest of the 21st century and every choice we make, is which option will it make it more possible for us to get there? so i think whatever we decide to do with the company, the people that we hire, the deals we run, every itty-bitty choices, how do we transform this company into the way people buy from local businesses. >> charlie: the only question you would have whether you accept an attractive offer from someone, whether you continue doing it like you are or go company and raise money is which means would help us get to where we want to be? >> that's it. >> charlie: so therefore, why did you choose to eliminate a google-like proposition? and incline yourself toward other propositions? >> it has to do with whether or
not i would beat my wife. >> charlie: no, it doesn't. this is a thing you use. i know about this tactic so i'm prepared for it. you know what i'm asking. >> you know what i'm asking. i can't answer. >> charlie: a boy can try. >> it is amusing. >> charlie: it is amusing. here is another take at this. were you influenced by decisions that facebook had made? >> i can't talk about this, charlie. >> charlie: but i don't understand why you can't talk about it. >> you can't talk about all kinds of things largely because -- for the same reason that every person you go on a date with, you don't bring them home to your parents right away. >> charlie: that's a perfect answer. that's all i'm looking for. it's great to have you here.
thank you for joining -- >> thank you for having me. >> charlie: groupon is a great story. >> it's great to be part of it. thanks for having me. >> charlie: cleopatra was worshiped as a goddess, as a child, and she became a queen at 18. at the height of her power, she held the fate of the western world in her hands. 2,000 years after her death, her myth and mystery continue to captivate the world's imagination. now pulitzer prize-winning author stacy schiff has written a new biography of the last queen of egypt called "cleopatra, a life" i am pleased to have her back at this table. welcome. >> thank you, charlie. >> charlie: what is it you know about writing biography? >> there is a wonderful thing about biography because you have a beginning, a middle and an end and you get to kill your subject at the end of the book. it's a stunning, stunning gratification for the biographer. >> charlie: i'm sure you have been asked this a thousand times, but what is it about her? >> well, you know, it's
difficult to resist a subject which is built of misconceptions. here was a subject you could tackle where you could say we think she's egyptian but she was great, we think she was beautiful but she's charismatic and cunning. we forget that her world is more sophisticated than the roman world which conquers her, she is the wealthiest person in that world, a thing most of us, i think, don't know so there is this puddle of misconceptions into which she's melted and it's a great all-star cast of the ancient world, caesar and marc antony, cleopatra, supporting cast of herod, a fabulous group of characters whom we think we knew about but we are somewhat confused about. >> charlie: the love of her life was? >> the throne, maybe. i think this was more a geopolitical story than it was a romance but i may be a little cynical on that count. she's the wealthiest person in the world. she inherrits a throne which is under fire -- -- she inheritz a
throne which is under way. >> charlie: -- she inherites a throne which is under fire. >> charlie: caesar is on his way. >> her goal is to keep rome at bay as much as possible. >> charlie: why did you come to her? my guess might be why not? >> it took me a long time to get to her. partly that puddle of misconceptions. partly women in power -- here is one of the most powerful women who ever lived and that's a subject over which i think we still trip to some extent and partly have a world in great transition. 30 years after she dies, christ is born. you feel that sort of spiritual longing in the air in her lifetime. with her goes egyptian autonomy, with her goes the hellenistic age, it's a punctuation point in history which i find fascinating and the material for that is fantastic. >> charlie: what shaped her? >> she's an immensely well
educated woman at a time when women were raised to rule, all the women at the time were raised that any one of them might take over the throne and she's educated as caesar or marc antony was educated to be able to recite homer, to be able to think, from an immensely sophisticated world that has the best education you could possibly have. >> charlie: how did she develop this reputation as a temptress? because she was? >> i don't know. we know from the ancient stories that she was -- plutafrp makes much of her charm, her -- plutarch makes much of her charm, he said you can't be in a room with her without being charmed, she speaks nine languages, partly you're dealing with something which is more a
matter of power than personality, the romans have to turn her into a demonic, alluring woman who disarms marc antony for their own purposes so they begin the story of her as the great seductress, a woman who undermines the man, who is sort of the siren call of the east and therefore takes these poor romans and makes mincemeat of them, and that story is built upon and built upon over time -- by the time even you get to dante, she's in the circle of carnal sinners and the romantics make her more and she's juliet by the time we get to her. >> charlie: there is nothing she wrote or said except one expression. >> there is one word that may be hers, may be a scribe's, it's called "let it be done" on an edict from her reign" it is possibly her signature, possibly a signature of one of her many officials but otherwise, no, there is nothing that survives
of her largely on account of the alexandriaan humidity, there is no papyrus whatsoever from that part of the world. >> charlie: how did you research your story? >> we have the ancient chroniclers. we have accounts that date from essentially 100 years after her daethd which is when plutarch begins but you have a -- after her death which is when plutarch begins, alexandria is the fashion capital, the seat of learning, the most sophisticated city at that time in the mediterranean and every visitor, every roman who comes says i'm speechless. this is the most astonishing city then he goes on at a romp of 25-30 pages describing it, you have a terrific detail there, you have sovereigns at the time like herod who are dealing with the encroachment of rome from which you can extrapolate about cleopatra and the women in her world you can
use as context for where she comes from. >> charlie: and the instinct for power? >> if you look at her dynasty, it's a pretty power-hungry -- this is a dynasty that descend friday one of the sons of alexander the great and from the beginning they are pretty barbarous and ambitious crew. what differentiates them from many such dynasties is that the women are as barbarous and savage as the men and there is a great deal of mothers setting armies upon sons and husbands dismembering children. there is a great deal of savagery but it seems to be gender-neutral savagery. >> charlie: and the right reasons to remember her beyond the misconceptions is that instinct for power and the fact that she lived in this kind of milieu? >> she's very cunning and clear-sighted. i guess there are two things i would say. she's a remarkably cunning strategist. >> charlie: napoleonic kind of qualities? >> or caesar-like qualities. she sets her eyes on a goal and she's unrelenting in that goal and remarkably ingenius.
from the moment she arrives before caesar in a canvas-like sack. >> charlie: tell us the story of how she got to see caesar. a soldier put her -- >> she's at war with her brother, she needs to sneak ban back into the alexandria palace undetected, she has a retainer row her into the harbor in a sack of some kind into which she crawls and the retainer slips her over his shoulder, walks across the palace grounds and in some way she makes her way surreptitiously back to her palace and before caesar which is an ingenius and cunning entrance if you're talking about a man like caesar. >> charlie: when does she see caesar? >> i don't know, sometime in the next couple months she see pregnant so she obviously sees him and they become allies. >> charlie: what does he think of her? >> there seems to be a great rapport. it is not obvious that he should have sided with her. she's at war with her brother, the brother would have been the obvious alternative, somehow she
murst have convinced him that she was the more resourceful ally, there is a great debt to be paid, her father owed the romans money, somehow she must have convinced caesar that she was more likely to be able to cough up that money than was her brother and the two of them should essentially go into business together as they eventually will. >> charlie: and then marc antony comes into her life. >> marc antony will come into her life at the death of caesar, caesar is killed when she's in rome. >> dan: march 15. >> and the world will will essentially divide between octaviarean, caesar's son and marc antony, his deputy and she will havy little choice but to ally herself with marc antony with whom she goes on to have three more children. >> charlie: she knows how to adapt -- >> she knows how to adapt, she knows how to make an entrance, she knows how to please a man, she knows how to essentially work the diplomatic channels effectively. >> charlie: who bought the
rights to this book? >> scott ridden and sony. >> charlie: you say among the most famous women to have lived, cleopatra vii ruled egypt for 22 years. she lost her kingdom once, regained tnearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all, a goddess as a child, celebrity, she was a goddess and legend even in her own time, at the height of her power she controlled virtually the entire eastern mediterranean coast, the last kingdom of any egyptian ruler. she had a child with a married man, three more with another, she died at 39, a generation before the birth of christ and she died with marc antony. >> she dies, exactly, shortly after marc antony. >> charlie: he thinks she is dead. >> it's so poignant. he hears she's died. possibly that she -- >> charlie: she's already built a mausoleum. >> clearly the end has come, it's how it's going to play
itself out, he stabs himself but not entirely -- and then he finds out that she is still alive and he is hauled up to her mausoleum by -- if plutarch's account is true, he's hauled up to the mausoleum by the ropes hanging from the sides of this not entirely finished structure by cleopatra and her hand maidens, he asks for a glass of wine, she's despondent, she's been poised throughout her life, suddenly undone by this sight and addresses him as her husband, commander and master, and mixes his blood upon her body, you can hear plutarch caught up in this story of cleopatra, writing about antony and instead he's diverted his attention to cleo on pat ra, and shortly thereafter, yes, she will kill herself as well. >> charlie: do we believe plutarch or not? >> plutarch is writing 100 years after cleopatra's death.
>> charlie: every account is written after her death. >> strapo arrives four years after her death and he's the first to say he doesn't know how she died. that's contemporaneous. plutarch who is the best source, really, or the most objective source among the greeks is writing 100 years after the death. there are eyewitness accounts from which he works. on the other hand, these are three generations further down the line, eyewitness accounts so while there is no inherent political bias there you are certainly getting thrice-told tales. so part of the obvious here was to -- object was to remind the reader that we labor under misconceptions but some of that material may be at a distance from the events. >> charlie: do you have to have a theory of a life? >> by the time you finish you want a sense of the themes of the life if not the theory, you want to go into it almost theory free to be able to see how the pieces fall out. ignorance is your best friend going into a story.
you want to be without biases. you want to be without really any preconnotions and as you work you want to maintain an open mind. i don't think i was struck by her ingenuity until i was halfway through the book. >> charlie: what was the most difficult part of this? >> not having her voice, not knowing what she could have thought when caesar was murdered and she was in rome, she's banked everything on this man, egypt's future depends upon him, she has a child with him, she's in mortal danger, she's in rome, she needs to leave immediately, what could have possibly gone through her mind, she almost lost a kingdom once, she's now about to conceivably lose it again. what could he have possibly thought? >> charlie: what did caesar say about her? >> there is one line in all of caesar about her. there are many things miss nasdaq caesar's memoirs. he never crosses the rubicon, in his memoirs, he never burns the alexandria library, he said essentially she was a good and obeddient woman.
that's the only line. it makes sense that -- a good and obedient woman. that's the only line. he never mentions the cruise down the nile, no one does until later, he's consorting with another woman. >> charlie: you argue that she had no alternative but to go after marc antony after caesary death? >> she has no alternative but to ally herself with a roman. she needs a benefactor of some kind. octavius disqualifies himself for the fact that he is caesar's son and she's the mother of caesar's son. that's too many caesars. octavian is untried. he has no military experience. he's a sallow, fragile young man, marc antony for all his remarkable boisterousness is a military commander with much experience, beloved by his men who is in charge of the east and so in theory, she does report to marc antony.
>> charlie: and his reputation with women was extraordinary, wasn't it? >> it was, but she's the one who comes out as the seductress. isn't that remarkable? shoo he would never marry her. >> we don't know if they married, it's interesting. i think it's unlikely if they would have married. he's married to someone else for most of the time they have a relationship. they're on and off together for the better part of a decade, during that time he's married not to one but two other wives, we have no idea whether she marries another caesar or marc antony at any point but we know that they are together for much of that time. >> charlie: why do we have this portrait here? >> isn't that remarkable? based on a coin. it's historically accurate. we know she wove pearls through her hair, we know she wore earrings -- pearls were the diamonds of the day, there would have been a great number of pearls and the diademin the hair noted a helenistic monarch and
the pearls would have been from -- the jewels gold in color, rich in style, very much as pictured there. >> charlie: congratulations. >> thank you very much. >> charlie: "cleopatra, a life," stacy schiff. john wood is here. he is the founder of room to read. it is a nonprofit organization that works to promote literacy in poor countries. wood started it 10 years ago after leaving his job at microsoft. since then, room to read has built 1,000 schools, established 10,000 local libraries and funded nearly 9,000 scholarships for young girls. i am pleased to have him here at this table to talk about -- and a remarkable achievement on the cover of this book, leaving microsoft to change the world, bill clinton says just think what would have happened if a couple of hundred people followed his example. what did he mean? what would they be following if they followed your example?
>> my example was finding the unmet need and seeing the lack of books for kids all over the developing world. >> charlie: what did you see that put you on a journey that changed your life? >> in 1999 i was trucking in that pal in the himalayas, a headmaster invited me to see his library, and he had no books. i said how can this be? you have the room, it says, "library" and he said "we're too poor to afford books and education but until we have books and education we'll always be poor and that hit me because that summarizes why the two billion people live on less than $2 a day, not becausitary dim or because they're lazy, it's because they lack access to education so this is a microcosm in this little village in nepal of a much bigger problem that affects large parts of the world. >> charlie: what process brought you to put books in the school? >> the headmaster gave me an
assignment saying perhaps you would come back with books. perhaps me saw me as a type-a personality, i told me how important my library was to me growing up in a small town and how the library changed my life and when i said that to him he said "maybe you can do that same thing here in this village." i got excited. i had made money at a young age, trying to do something with it, my parents taught me if you make money it doesn't make you a good person, what makes you a good person is what you do to it and the idea was born. 500 kids, let's bring books and see if these kids can be the first of their generation, the first of their family to learn to read. >> charlie: two questions. where did you get the books? >> internet book drive. companies like scholastic got behind it which was huge for us. >> charlie: and then what influence did they have on the kids? once you could see them there? >> well, i went back a year later with my 73-year-old father as my voluntary right-hand man, and the kids had never seen -- children books before so it was
a mosh pit, diving under the books, looking and they had the widest eyes. we see it in our own country when you see a child connect with a book. imagine seeing 500 children connecting for the first time ever with a brightly colored children's book. that was my game-over moment when i started to edge my way toward the door of microsoft not because i didn't have a great career there, i had traveled enough in post khmer rouge asia and i knew this was the place. >> charlie: what was your dream? >> my dream was that every child everywhere in the world has access to literacy and books in their mother tongue from a young age, bar none. >> charlie: this is the kind of venture when you ask for help people step up and say ok. >> pretty much. in the beginning years, not really because nobody knew who i was. i had lost my status. i called people, "john who, room to what?" it took a couple years to get off and run, 2,000 a terrible time to start a charity with the
markets melting down, year three we started to take off because people everywhere who have resources realized they have education to thank, without education you're not you, i'm not me, soy we really remind people of that to say this is a chance to pay it forward in a part of the world where kids don't have the access to the simplest things. >> charlie: how big is room to read now? >> room to read now is about 450 employees, the majority of whom are out in the field in places like cambodia and nepal and india, our budget is about $30 million a year which we don't have an endowment we, have to raise every dollar ourselves but the most important number is five million and that's the number of children who now have access to a room to read school or library and i'm proud to say half of students who have access are girls because we make aing particular point to make sure girls don't get left behind. >> charlie: i mentioned the scholarship. >> yes, exactly, also female literacy is important, the cornerstone of education. if kids don't learn to read from a young age, they're not going to have chance to get past the
sixth or seventh grade, places like zambia where we work, only one in five girls makes it past seventh grade then people wonder why does subsaharan africa stay poor? a lot of it is because if girls don't get educated they can't educate the next generation and they don't have improved family health and stable societies. it starts with education. it's the ripple effect that affects every other issue. if there had been movements against slavery and movements against apartheid and movements against malaria, there can be a movement against the idea that every child was born you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong parents and you didn't get educated. >> charlie: what do your experience at microsoft give you the ability to pull this off? >> i spent years at microsoft, i learned about scaling a business, how you hire great people, how do you refuse to compromise on getting good people involved, the idea of thinking big, we used to say "about big or go home" i learned
from bill gates and steve ballmer, and i said i wanted to reach 10 billion kids, if we're going to do this let's do it in a really big way and part of it was not just the lesson in microsoft, it was the lesson of andrew carnegie that 100 years after carnegie is dead there are still 3,000-plus libraries accessible to 10's of millions of people a day and i looked at that and said why have we not done for the developing world what carnegie did for our country. >> charlie: carnegie said i'll build the building, you get the books. >> carnegie would put the building up, the village would have to pay for the books and pay for the running costs of the library and we do something very similar at room to read, we call it a challenge grant, the community members will dig the foundation for the school, they'll build the shelves, they'll paint the wall, things to get the parents volved so they feel that they have skin in the game and feel a sense of ownership. >> charlie: women's literacy is crucial because it gives them an opportunity to be a full participant? >> exactly, every year a woman
goes to school her income will increase by 10% per annum. if a woman is educated she's twice as likely to vaccinate her children. the thing about the world there is 500 million illiterate women. we can be looking at 3 billion people born to a mother who can't read to them and that's where population growth is going to come from in the next 40 years, the tick-up from 6.5 billion to 9 billion people, it's not happening in the developed world, it's happening in the poorest parts of the world where woem don't get educated, pakz -- where women don't get educated. it's the -- paekz, where women don't get educated -- children are denied a basic education. >> charlie: what is the goal you have in terms of capital? >> my first goal would be that somebody who signed the billionaires pledge which i love bill and melinda and warren
baufrnsett would make a large investment. for $100 million we could establish 20,000 rural libraries. 100 million dollars would establish 20,000 libraries which would be enough to actually reach an additional 10 million children. so it's not -- it's very, very leveraged money. that 5,000 per library, you're looking at about $20 per child to change a kid's life forever so when i say we want to reach literally 10's of millions and hundreds of millions of kids i hope it's not hub ristic, i hope it's real because the re-- i hope it's not hubristic, but this issue has been overlooked way too long because 90% of the people in the world today who are illiterate live in the developed world. what room to read is trying to say is let's not overlook it because we can change this issue. it's a lever with which we can move the earth. >> charlie: technology will change the world? >> there is a risk of putting the cart before the horse, in india say a child needs to learn to read and then they can read to learn.
if every child learns to read they can be platform agnostic, you and i read newspapers, we read magazines, we read our computer screens, on ipads, on kindles, i would hope that every kid in the world can do that but i think there is some notion that there is a magic technology solution we can throw at the developing world is a canard. it starts with low-tech things like teachers who are trained, librarian who is encourage kids in the habit of reading and systems that make sure we measure performance so we know that the libraries are being used and the kids are taking books home and learning to read. >> charlie: tell me your best story of somebody you have met on this journey. >> it would go back to the village of bahundanda where we did the first library. there are now 16-year-old children who were in kindergarten when with we opened that first library, and i talked to these 16-year-olds now and they are literal and fluent in their mother tongue and in english, and i asked the 10-year-old -- 16-year-old boys what do you want to be when you grow up and they say "i want to
be a civil engineer, i not toa an airline pilot." i asked a girl what she wanted to be and she didn't say "i want to be a doctor, she said "i will be a doctor." an investor said "i will fund her medical school soshe can go" and these kids, we all know that talent is evenly distributed, the question is who is reached at a young age and who is not and are we willing to accept the fact that these kids are being left behind when we actually can reach them and it's not -- it doesn't take a big effort, it just takes the willingness to say let's get out there and not forget the fact that a couple decades after the khmer rouge, we still have to be out rebuilding cambodia. >> charlie: the hardest part of doing this is what? >> i think the hardest part of doing it has been i didn't start with celebrity. it's a lot easier to change the world if a you have a billion dollars, b you're a celebrity or perhaps both. those are great preconditions with which to go out and create
global change. room to read has been bootstrapped. the hardest part is bootstrapping it, getting it off the ground, building the base and we're fortunate that it's gone very well so far but what frustrates me is all are the kids we haven't reached. there is still so much further we have to go. >> charlie: because of the billions that are there. >> exactly, there is 150-200 million kids who woke up this mork and didn't go to school so they need us. >> charlie: this is a book for children called zach the yak with books on his back" written by you and illustrated by iben. >> it's my first children's book, trying to make the room to read story accessible to young kids, the yak is my dople ganger. he -- is my doppleganger. this is available on our website, we self-published it so we can use the money to print more books for kids. >> charlie: what are guth out of
this? >> i have the greatest life in the -- >> charlie: whatture getting out of this? >> i have the greatest life in the world, i travelled the world and spend the majority of my time fund-raising. when i get out into the rural villages in laos and south africa and i have grandmothers holding my hand saying "i can die now because my 14-year-old granddaughter goes to school" or i see mothers in india who say that their self confidence has increased because their daughter is going to school and that actual daughter's self-confidence plays out and the mothers are confident enough to come to public meetings. i a mother in delhi said two months ago if there was a meeting i would have hid my head in shame, i'm an illiterate migrant worker with no education. now three years later i dare to come out and speak to you as a peer and a friend. that's what hope looks like. there are all these dark forces in the world. you have kids in afghanistan who
are 14 years old who are planting i.e.d.'s. 14-year-old kids should be in school. >> charlie: if something had come along to intercept whatever that journey was about and provide an alternative it might have been a very different future for them. >> remember that famous scene at the end of "charlie wilson's war" when the united states says, "the soviets are defeated, we're done in afghanistan, let's leaf" and charlie wilson is trying to get funding for a single school, didn't get it, the madrasas moved in, the iranians built a lot of madrasas that taught kids to hate and i look at this and as leaders we have to admit vacuums get filled. what they get filled with hopefully is is something like what we do, not what the other darker forces do. >> charlie: john wood. thank fur joining us. see you next time. captioning sponsored by rose communications